Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Commander Ludwig Nicstaed’s ‘The Creatures and Monsters of Esdaria: A Bestiary Written in Blood’, Part One of Six

Ludwig Nicstaed, unlike writers such as Aethwyrd, had experienced much of what he wrote about. We are also lucky that a great deal of evidence survives surrounding Commander Ludwig, which is due to the Vidorian Inquisition’s reverence of him. Though never a member of the Inquisition, Commander Ludwig’s bestiary became the foremost text used by the Inquisition due to his experiences with the monsters and beasts of Esdaria. His work is in no way complete, nor entirely accurate in part, though commnts have been added in relevant places. His vivid descriptions, and his focus on the rarer and more dangerous creatures, have inspired hundreds of folk-tales and stories.

A Westernaean, Ludwig was born around fifty years after the beginning of the Second Age. The Vidorian Empire was still consolidating its power in regions such as Westernaea, and Ludwig, a devout worshipper of the Divine Empress – so his account reveals – was quick to rise through the ranks of the Imperial Legion as a result. Soon, be became a regional commander and was stationed Stonesport, in the north-westernmost corner of the province of Westernaea. Renowned when Ludwig was there for its sightings of monsters and creatures, the province was also gripped with rebellion that lasted over a decade. Insurgent fighting and skirmishes were common, and Ludwig’s account hints that the undead he often faced were, in fact, the reanimated corpses of foes he had already once slain.

The first part of his bestiary, which is ordered chronologically, focuses on some of the rarest and most exciting creatures that inhabit the skies and high-places of Esdaria. His account is written, most probably, to brag about those creatures which he has encountered and fought against. As a result, he does not include common birds and so-on.

Avians – Creatures that Inhabit the Skies

The ankyr is eagle-like in its appearance, with a great hooked beak and wide, dark wings. Where the eagle’s head is white, and its body brown, the ankyr’s is completely white. Also, where the eagle is small, the ankyr is the size of a warhorse, and has a wingspan as broad as a townhouse is tall. It has fiery red eyes that can see movement from twenty miles away. Its talons are the size of longswords and are capable of crushing through even the hardest and best-made steel as if it were paper. By Vidoria’s grace, however, the great bird rarely preys on Men – unless they disturb its nest.

They are rare and magnificent creatures, and touching the pristine white feathers of one – which themselves are as long as lances – is said to bring one eternal luck. This is hard to prove, however, as they tend to nest up in the highest peaks of mountains and rarely come down to ground-level to hunt, preferring the tougher and hardier prey in the mountains.

An ankyr has not been seen in the Vidorian Empire since the reign of Daeral I, and are assumed to have died out.

Commonly throught to have the appearance of a giant, three-headed, winged cat, only the most ancient of chimaera actually grow to have three heads. They are far more savage in appearance and behaviour than the cat found in the imperial provinces, as the chimaera is the size of a cow, has a wide, flat head and fangs the size of daggers. They lack the grace and agility of the common cat as well, for their legs and broad and their coats shaggy. They grow to the size of oxen and their leathery wings are often ragged and torn from fighting with their kin. Some grow horns upon their heads, but others do not.

Ludwig’s account of a chimaera is based extensively upon one provided by Odr who, when in the Aordun Mountains, claimed in one of his letters to have seen a ‘pack of savage winged cats as large as oxen, the largest and greyest of which had three heads’ in the rocky region below him, now named Gyn’dosh. In Odr’s letter, he details how the chimaera fell upon a mountain goat and ripped it to pieces and rejoicing in the kill. The meat of the creature itself was ignored, and the chiameras did not eat it.

Majestic yet savage, the gryphon is the largest of avian creatures, and one of the most proud. With the head, shoulders, and wings of a great eagle, they have fore and rear legs are remarkably similar to those of the chimaera. Gryphons are slightly larger than ankyr, and stand much taller at the shoulder – some twenty hands high. Their feathers are strong and can deflect weaker-shot arrows, whilst their legs are strong enough to carry off whole cattle. The claws that sit at the end of each large toe at the front of their paw-like feet are not as long as the talons of the ankyr, but are as strong as stone and devilishly sharp. Their eyes are a golden yellow colour, whilst their beaks, which are large enough to fit a man’s head inside, are oddly short, but very curved. Their yellow beaks come to a sharp point, which is ideal for tearing flesh.

The gryphon’s rear-quarters and tail are, surprisingly, free of feathers. Unlike its house-sized wings, shoulders, chest and head, the gryphon’s rear is covered in a light, luxuriously soft fur. Whatever colour their front-feathers are, the fur that covers their rears is also that shade. Under its feathers and fur, it has a tough, thick skin that is as durable as the finest leather and hard to pierce with a blade.

The gryphon is easily identifiable by its call: a long, high squall like that of an eagle but an hundred times the depth and volume. The shrill call is long and excited in its sound, starting at a high note and lowering itself towards the end of the cry.

Ludwig’s account here is very detailed anatomically. It has led many scholars to speculate that he either saw a dead gryphon or killed one himself, though the creatures are notoriously rare. The inclusion of details concerning arrows being deflected by feathers and tough skin ‘hard to pierce with a blade’ is suggestive of the latter.

Without doubt, the phoenix is the rarest and most beautiful of all creatures. The size of a gull, it stands with a straight back on talons made of solid gold. It swells its proud, puffed chest, which glitters with crimson and yellow feathers. Their feathers and sun-like plumage are all flecked at their tips with tiny golden particles that glitter and gleam in the light. Their tail feathers are longer than their bodies, and curl at the end with grace, power and elegance only surpassed by the Divine Empress herself. Legend says that the phoenix never stops growing, and when it reaches a certain age, its feathers begin to burn and it becomes an avatar of pure light – creatures utterly devoted to the will of the Divine Empress.

This account is a more-or-less complete copy of a verse from the Chant of the Divine Empress, in which the First Empress, Vidoria, turned into a phoenix upon her death and flew into the sun. Phoenixes are often recorded in literature as heralds of great change, and their sightings are revered as the highest forms of blessing amongst those faithful to the Divine Empress. Aside from the close-up description of a phoenix provided in the Chant of the Divine Empress, there is no other independent surviving account of a phoenix ever being encountered. In the eyes of the Church of the Divine Empress, this simply adds to the mythological and reverential status the creatures are deserving of.

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